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One Nation…*

church state

The minister selected to deliver the benediction at the 2013 inauguration has withdrawn. It seems that his well-publicized (and recorded) anti-homosexual remarks were creating a distraction. This of course is not the first time that a preacher who has expressed bigotry has been offered an exalted platform by (current and past) White House occupants. This may however been the first time that bigotry was acknowledged as potentially offensive (after the selection but before the event.)

The thing is, religion by its very definition is about exclusion. ‘This is what we believe in.’ There can be no ‘we’ without a ‘thee.’ Whether we personally engage with the philosophy of organized religion or not is somewhat beside the point. What is of significance is how comfortable we seem to be with mixing church and state. In most of our lifetimes we have never before seen the extreme polarizing and lethal effects of religion that are in play today. War is raged and terror acts committed by people citing a conflict of religious ideals. We know from our own recent presidential election how divisive religion has become in this country. It has been many decades since we considered ourselves a white Christian nation. Our language reflects that change. We are cautious in how we identify people, we use euphemisms and/or bundle all winter occasions in place of casually tossing about; “Merry Christmas.’ We can and do change. Yet, our public institutions are still decorated with Christmas trees (presumably paid with tax dollars.) Our government hosts prayer breakfasts and includes prayer in ceremonies of state. Why?

Religion is a private matter and personal decision. If memory serves, that was the motivation for founding America. So why do we unconsciously continue to allow religion into our government? Is it unconscious? Could it be that there are people in power who still have cold war tics? Are we afraid of seeming the very thing some accuse us of; godless? Could it be that there are people who do not trust strength of character, integrity and morality without clear and present doctrine? Perhaps it’s a little bit of habit, a little bit of superstition and just a dash of unconsciousness. At a time in history when we seem to go to lengths to seem inclusive and/or ‘tolerant’ it all seems embarrassingly anachronistic. Seeing a modern president (or any elected official) include religious observance into official state business is like seeing someone pat their secretary on the bottom. To my eyes anyway.

*In 1954, (during the McCarthy era and communism scare) Congress passed a bill, which was signed into law, to add the words “under God” to the pledge of allegiance. 

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Posted by on January 11, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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Unnatural Acts – Review

I have been meaning to see The Classic Stage Company’s production of Unnatural Acts, (based on the true story of Harvard University’s persecution of homosexual students) since the play opened.  That I chose to see it on the eve of New York State issuing the first marriage licenses to gay couples, is somewhat poetic.

Unnatural Acts takes place at Harvard University in 1920.  It is based on actual records which were uncovered at the end of 2002 by a Harvard student.  The records, of a tribunal and subsequent persecution of 38 students, is compelling for its layers of inhumanity.  The university’s rather flaccid response and comment to the discovery of the records, only compound the impact of the story.

The play was conceived by its director, Tony Speciale and written by the members of the Plastic Theatre (who comprise most of the cast.)  This is a true ensemble piece as demonstrated by the absolute fluidity of story, staging and character.  The actors are so perfectly cast as their characters, it is difficult to imagine anyone else embodying the roles.  The thrust stage transforms into various Harvard locales, and once, through a genius use of lights above the fly, a train station.  The story is told in a riveting dramatic manner, never resorting to sentiment.  From the moment the stage lights come up, we know it is 1920 and can feel all that that implies.   We watch the young men perform their toilette while discussing their friend’s recent death (he was found dressed in a suit, in his childhood bedroom, gassed to death.)  Their varying reactions and relationship to one another tells us so very much about the pressure to conform.  The subtlety in the layers of social class in the ivy league setting are timeless and lend a very modern feel to this very period piece (the actors even have 1920’s haircuts.)

So much could be said about the story itself, about the implications of institutionalized bigotry and the absence of reparation.  However, space and attention span, sway me to discuss the production itself.  Unnatural Acts is the closest thing to a musical, without music, you will ever see.  Exquisitely choreographed, the actors are positively fluid.  The second scene actually has 8 men on stage moving in slow motion at a party.  Couples transition into real time as we hear their conversation.  It is a real party, but slowed down.  Every detail and facial nuance is entirely authentic.  Every piece of this production is up to the scrutiny of slow motion.  Even set changes are beautiful to watch. 

The final scene is the most musical of them all.  I was reminded of the power of Bill T. Jones’ Spring Awakening classroom scene.  The sounds and movement were so incredibly powerful.  I regretted sitting in the first row of a thrust theatre, as there really is no way to hide the hiccuping sobs.

I simply cannot remember having seen something this flawless and powerful.  This play has been extended (for the third time) only through July 31st.  I urge you to have this experience.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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